Two years ago, seven campaigners were killed by police during a demonstration against a planned open-pit coalmine in Phulbari, Bangladesh. Their struggle was taken up by thousands of locals, who took to the streets the following day vowing to continue indefinitely their campaign of resistance against the project, which had been proposed by British company Global Coal Management (GCM).
Since then, the campaign has gone from strength to strength. Forty-two community leaders wrote to the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in 2007, urging it to drop its $100 million financial backing for the project. ‘The ADB offers loans in the name of reducing poverty,’ they wrote. ‘But if realized, we believe that this project will increase the poverty of the local population as well as cause environmental disaster.’ Some 60 international NGOs also backed the campaign, highlighting the fact that going ahead would displace 50,000 people, lead to food and water insecurity and increase the risk of political unrest in the area.
In April, the ADB bowed to the pressure and pulled out of the project – thus jeopardizing the mine’s construction. The World Development Movement, which spearheaded the campaign in Britain, was delighted. ‘This is a blow for GCM but a victory for some of the poorest people of Bangladesh,’ said policy officer Tim Jones. ‘The people of Bangladesh should not suffer at the hands of a British company.’ His sentiments were echoed by Professor Anu Mohammad of Jahangirnagar University, a key opponent of the project. ‘The proposed “development” project is merely a scheme to loot natural resources from a poor country for the rich. We will not allow GCM to turn a land of food for the people into a black hole for corporate profit.’